Santiago de Compostela became famous as a result of the great medieval pilgrimages to the tomb of the apostle James the Great. Around the middle 9th Century the rumour spread that the tomb of the apostle had been discovered in the Cantabrian coast in the distant kingdom of Galicia. discover this fascinating place in this Santiago de Compostela city guide and make the most out of your trip. No matter if this is the end of your “camino” or the beginning of a vacation in Northern Spain!
The rest of Spain was under Moorish rule at that time, but that was not the case of Galicia. The pilgrimage fell in importance after the 13th century, but there has been a revival of the Camino since the 1990s, and Santiago de Compostela is today a vibrant university town, with lots of heritage, fantastic gastronomy, and the end of El Camino.
Santiago de Compostela City Guide - Contents
The 2 most popular Santiago de Compostela Tours
Cathedral and Museum Combo tickets
Private Tour of Santiago
SANTIAGO TOP HOTELS
TOP SANTIAGO ATTRACTIONS
5 Top Reasons To Visit Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is a city in Galicia worldwide known for being the endpoint of the Camino de Santiago. It hosts one of the most famous cathedrals in the world and the tomb of the Apostle Santiago. But you couldn’t be more wrong if you think this is all that there is to be found in this University city. The capital of Galicia has lots of attractions with which to conquer your heart!
1- Pilgrim for just one day?
If you have not enjoyed El Camino but you would like to get that sort of feeling, all you need to do is to enjoy the last mile and arrive at La Plaza del Obradoiro where students and pilgrims alike can be found at all times of the day. At the Obradoiro Square, you will also discover the main façade of the famous cathedral of Santiago.
If are in the mood you can even book a tour to get the feeling and enjoy the last day of El Camino. More information on this tour.
We also recommend you to have a look at our complete guide to El Camino with lots of interesting and practical information to plan your walking trip.
2- Enjoy the famous Cathedral, the Botafumeiro, and the cathedral museum
Locals from Santiago claim that the stones that lead to the main entrance of the cathedral are especially beautiful when it rains. We are not so sure about this, but we totally agree with all those proud citizens from Santiago that the cathedral is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Spain in Spain. It also holds the magical botafumeiro and lots of masterpieces. More details at this Santiago´s cathedral guide.
3- Indulge in a seafood paradise
Thanks to the proximity of the Rias Baixas, Santiago de Compostela receives daily fresh fish and seafood. The local food market in Santiago (the Mercado de Abastos) is one of the top attractions of the city and a place not to be missed if you enjoy food and local gastronomy.
Especially famous in Galicia is the Galician Octopus, or Pulpo a Feira as it is known locally. This popular dish is actually a recipe that originated in León. In Spain, paprika was used to preserve meats from the annual slaughter or Matanza. During the summer months, there was a continuous caravan of herds of maragato muleteers who brought the miraculous preservative along the silver route from Extremadura, and with it, another precious treasure, olive oil.
The Maragatos would purchase dried octopus that the Galicians almost despised for close to nothing and, in their wandering, they rehydrated it and mixed it with the Extremadura olive oil and paprika with which they traded with. Sometime later, the Galicians began to appreciate the invention and incorporated it as a conduit for their festivals, fairs and pilgrimages, giving it the name of “polbo á feira” or pulpo á feira
4-Enjoy its fantastic architecture
Besides the cathedral, there are many amazing buildings worth visiting in Santiago de Compostela. The city center is not huge, and you will find at Alameda park a fantastic green spot where you can relax and enjoy a picnic. Amongst the most remarkable buildings, is the Parador Hotel, which used to be a pilgrim’s hospital and where you can enjoy a drink or a coffee at its cafeteria. The University buildings (our favorite is Fonseca) and the monastery of San Martin Pinario are fantastic and not to be missed while you get lost in the cobbled streets of Santiago.
5- Enjoy a day tour from Santiago
We love Galicia and we think you will miss many things if you only enjoy Santiago de Compostela. There are several interesting day tours from Santiago de Compostela. Our favorite one, with no doubt, is to Rias Baixas, but there are also great tours to Lugo, Finisterre (the so-called “end of the world” with an amazing coast), and to Ribera Sacra wine region.
Best Time To Visit Santiago De Compostela
The best time of the year to visit Santiago is for many people end of July coinciding with the festivities of Santiago. We love May, June, September, and October when there are many students and it is not so rainy.
Weather In Santiago De Compostela
Santiago de Compostela brings high average temperatures from mid-October till mid-march that range from 50F to 60F whilst from May till September you can expect average highs that range from 65 to 75F.
You can expect a rainy day on 40% of the days from November to April.
Discover Secret Places, Stories And More
Santiago de Compostela is located 35 kilometers from the Atlantic ocean in the North West coast of Spain. The former head of the kingdom of Galicia, it is now the seat of the Galician region (Comunidad autonoma) and home of one of the oldest universities in Spain.
Santiago de Compostela is dominated by Monte Pedro, which is 2,400 feet above sea level. Excavations have revealed the presence of Romans in Monte Pedro.
Planning Your Visit To Santiago
The old quarter of Santiago de Compostela is walkable and cars are not permitted in most areas or there is limited parking. There are a good number of public undergrojund parkings in the fringes of the old district. They are the best option in case you travel by car and wish to visit the old quarter.
An average of 150,000 pilgrims arrive every year to Santiago de Compostela. Please bear in mind we refer to certified pilgrims (the ones that get their stamps at different stages of El Camino. Santiago is packed with students and many more tourists. Most local and international tourists arrive in July and August. At that time of the year, few students stay.
A Brief History of Santiago de Compostela
The history of Santiago de Compostela dates back to prehistory, and the Castro culture, the arrival of the Roman Empire, and, as a turning point, the supposed burial of the Apostle Santiago. The Asturian King Alfonso II ordered the construction of a church and the town was born around it. From that moment on, the city began to grow the center of power of the city represented by the Archbishop of Santiago and the cathedral.
In the territory currently occupied by the Cathedral of Santiago there was a Roman settlement, known as Assegonia, which existed between the second half of the 1st century and the 5th century.
Once the Roman settlement disappeared it became a point of contention between The Asturian kings the secessionist of Galicia. To avoid this, they would assume the genuine representation of the Gothic tradition in matters of religion and law in the territory with which they looked to ensure a single power. Secondly, they name an heir of royal blood, to govern Galicia. But the craftiest maneuver was the creation of Compostela. Taking advantage of the news of the discovery of the body of the Apostle Santiago, the King of Asturias Alfonso II founded at his expense a church that would surround him with privileges. Around the church, he would place communities and founded a town that from its creation enjoyed royal prerogatives. The King of Asturias achieved two major victories with this strategy: they found a patron for their cause, a Santiago knight, Matamoros, and at the same time a city faithful to the limit to the Asturian king nestled in the heart of Galicia.
The birth of Santiago, as it is now known, is linked to the discovery (presumably) of the remains of the Apostle Santiago between 820 and 835. The figure who became the patron saint of Spain in the seventeenth century, opposing others as distinguished as Saint Teresa de Jesús or Saint Millán de la Cogolla, and who continues to attract pilgrims for over two millennia to a western tip of Europe from all over the world.
According to a medieval tradition, as it appears for the first time in the Concordia de Antealtares (1077), the hermit Pelayo, alerted by night lights that occurred in the Libredón forest, notified the bishop of Iria Flavia, Teodomiro, who discovered the remains of Santiago el Mayor and two of his disciples in the place where Compostela would later be founded. Compostela means “field of stars”.
The discovery led Alfonso II, in need of internal cohesion and external support for his kingdom, to make a pilgrimage – announced within his kingdom and abroad – to a new place of pilgrimage in Christianity at a time when the importance of Rome had decayed and Jerusalem was not accessible to the power of the Muslims.
Slowly the city developed. First, a permanent ecclesiastical community was established to care for the remains, formed by the bishop of Iria and the monks of Antealtares. It was established that anyone who remained forty days without being claimed as a servant would be considered a free man with the right to reside in Compostela. The first known inhabitant of Compostela is, in fact, a foreigner: Bretenaldo Franco, whose oldest mention comes from the year 955.
The city grew and Sisenando II fortified it in 969, forming what was known as Locus Sancti Iacobi. This wall created a defensive system around the church that was where the current Cathedral, the Plaza da Quintana, and the Convent of San Paio are located.
Given the boom that was taking place, the city was destroyed by the Moorish king Almanzor on August 10, 997, which only respected the apostle’s tomb. When the inhabitants returned, the reconstruction began and, in the middle of the 11th century, Bishop Cresconio provided the city with an enclosure of moats and a new wall, on the old ring of palisades to protect the new neighborhoods that had arisen around the Locus.
In 1075 Bishop Diego Peláez began the construction of the Romanesque cathedral. The increase in pilgrimage meant that Compostela was becoming a place of great religious importance in Europe.
Released from the old tutelage of the archbishops of Braga, who maintained their authority over most of the dioceses of the nascent kingdom of Portugal, the Church of Santiago had jurisdiction over most of those of León and Asturias. Santiago was also the center of a great feudal lordship ruled by the bishops of Compostela, which ran from the Iso River to the Atlantic.
Between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a network of streets was articulated within the walled enclosure. The arrival of the Black Death in the city led to a severe demographic recession, which began to recuperate in 1380. In the 15th century, it had between 4,000 and 5,000 inhabitants.